Cost.

My nephew wants a MacBook Pro for Christmas. He’s 10 years old, lives 1,000 miles from us, and like many of his peers has an iPod and iPad, so I don’t know what his usage case for a MacBook Pro is. I suspect it has something to do with his wanting a GoPro as well. Perhaps he’s a future Steven Spielberg that skates and plays hockey or something.

My sister asked where she could get a reasonably priced MacBook Pro. Being the geek of the family, it’s that most wonderful time of the year when folks come out of the woodwork to ask for my opinion on all things technological. In all honesty, if Grandma City was still alive she’d probably still ask me about that blinking 12:00 on her new fangled microwave.

But I digress.

I took a look at the various refurbished Apple product sites and told my sister the best price she could expect for a decent MacBook Pro was at least $1K. This was not the answer she wanted to hear. A year or two ago my sister bought my nephew a Lenovo ThinkPad of some sort and paid around $500, but it’s not a Mac. And before any uses an accusatory tone, I have not been proclaiming the virtues of Apple around my nephew. He picked up this desire for an MBP on his own.

I’m a believer that the price of technology should be coming down. Technology should be attainable, at some level, to anyone that is curious. I recently revived an older Lenovo ThinkPad and made it into a very serviceable machine. At first I put Linux on it, but then after realizing that Linux does not have a desktop experience geared for the masses, as much as they try to say that it does, I decided to put Neverware’s CloudReady on it, essentially turning it into a Chromebook. It works beautifully, runs much faster than any version of Linux I had running on the thing, and has basically turned the computer into a nice setup. If you have an older computer lying around, I highly suggest trying CloudReady on it.

One of the things I find frustrating about Apple these days is their pricing. Despite the fact that the product line is starting to get “muddy” again, one must admit that the product line is starting to get very pricey. A decent iPhone Xr starts at nearly $800. The iPhone Xs starts at nearly $1000 and the larger iPhone Xs Max starts at nearly $1100. And before I go any further, what is up with the naming conventions. “Xs Max”? In my head I hear “X-ess”, er, “10-ess Max”. My eyes see “Tampax” or “Xanax”. None of this lends itself to a phone priced at nearly $1100.

More digression.

As technology permeates every facet of our life, and as a result we become completely reliant on these doodads, prices should be coming down, not going up. While I mostly appreciate Apple’s build quality, I don’t believe they are giving the public so awesome a technological experience that the cost of buying a phone should exceed the price of a month’s rent in large portions of the country. I know people will counter there’s cheaper options out there, even from Apple. They still offer the iPhone 7 and iPhone 8 and I think I read somewhere that they’re starting up production of the iPhone X again. But there’s a nagging in the back of mind as to expected longevity and the quality of support for a decent amount of time for these cheaper, yet older, designs.

This is another reason I’ve been looking at Google’s offerings lately. A couple of years ago we bought my Mom a Chromebook. It’s my understanding that she’s still using it. Her computing needs are pretty much web driven. There’s very little worry about viruses and malware on a Chromebook, and it updated itself. Plus, she could easily reach her data using her outdated iPhone 5, her Kindle, or her Chromebook, because it lived in an open ecosystem. While Apple has been better about sharing data outside of the walled garden, it’s still not super easy to integrate your iCloud calendar with a non-Apple device. I get the security concerns, but as I mentioned in a previous blog entry, if we are going to move forward in a sane direction with technology, we need to be able to share data across devices and platforms while maintaining reasonable precautions. “You can watch our keynote but only using our web browser” is not a reasonable precaution. That’s ecosystem lock in.

I’m a little bummed that I can’t find a MacBook Pro solution to tell my sister so she can tell Santa what to get my nephew. Hopefully I’ll find an answer over the next week. But more importantly, I think it’s time for a little disruption in the “let’s make our tech expensive” arena.

Connected.

The thought of a connected world is pretty cool. As long as the data is not abused (ahem, Facebook), we can achieve some great things in this 21st century if we have data the cooperates across competing platforms.

I’ve mentioned “A Day Made of Glass”, Corning Glass’ vision of such a connected world. Data is accessed pretty much along every surface that has been coated in Corning’s high-tech glass. Touch surfaces are everywhere. Corning focuses on the idea that everyone’s primary computing device is the tablet, and it’s powerful enough to drive larger displays and other peripherals. Used properly, these devices could really make our lives richer.

I’ve always loved the touchscreen mirror shown in the screen cap from the Corning video. There are prototypes and homemade versions available today, but in the real consumer market, the closest thing we have today are the smarthubs that are popping up on the market. Amazon has a couple with their Echo Show and Echo Spot. Google recently unveiled their Google Home Hub.

We picked up one yesterday.

Our new Hub is living on the kitchen counter and I’m finding it pretty cool. Not only can we control our lights and connected sockets throughout the house, but Earl can also watch news updates, I can watch videos from YouTube, we can tell things to jump up on our television from the device, and we can take a look at our calendars and the like.

You’ll notice we are using Google devices again, more on that in a later blog entry.

The key to these technological advances is the open (with appropriate security standards) exchange of data. I strongly believe we should be able to access our data from our devices, regardless of the manufacturer. While “walled gardens” worked in the past, they’re not allowing us to move forward.

We need to make the vision in “A Day Made of Glass” come true. That’s where our future needs to be.

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X10 Legacy.

Before we had the Internet of Things, we had the X10 protocol. Timers and controllers communicated with switches and modules over the electrical wiring throughout the building.

When Earl and I sold our first house back in 2003 we left behind wired in X10 switches in several key places. When we’d drive by the old home the outside lights were always on, even on the brightest of days. The new owners apparently never figured out how the newfangled switches worked.

Going through the Christmas decorations, Earl found a controller we used for a lighting display. I don’t have the heart to throw it away.

Analog rocked!

A Public Service Announcement From A Geek.

Please make your passwords so complicated that you can’t remember them. Never use the same password for multiple sites, accounts, or applications.

There are some excellent password managers out there: 1Password, LastPass, KeyPass all work well. If you’re in the Apple world, your complicated passwords will sync between your devices. Google offers the same thing with their products. I don’t know if Microsoft offers syncing.

If you have to manually type in a password (ahem, Microsoft Windows 10 on a typical laptop), remember the muscle memory, not the characters. Throw lots of non-alphanumeric characters in there. Interspersed capital letters are your friend.

If a website or service doesn’t allow non-alphanumeric characters, ditch them. They’re not concerned with keeping your data safe.

The More You Know (shooting star).

Geek.

A couple of weeks ago I mentioned that I had discovered Free Geek Chicago, an organization devoted to recycling older computers, saving consumers money, and saving the planet by breathing life into computers that would normally find itself in a landfill. One of the laptops I purchased is a Lenovo ThinkPad T410. It’s a respectable age. The keyboard is a little worn looking but otherwise the laptop is in beautiful shape and has been working well. I am currently running MX Linux on this computer, and I’m using it to type this blog entry.

The hard drive is a decent 256 GB, which is fine for my needs. However, it was an older spinning hard drive. Having used Apple products for the past several years, I had forgotten how easy it can be to update components in your favorite laptop; this generation of ThinkPad makes the task very easy. I have a 2014 Mac Mini on my shelf that can’t be upgraded at all, and to me that’s rather wasteful.

Our local Micro Center had a sale on SSD (solid state) hard drives, and I picked one up today for $35 plus tax. Within 10 minutes of arrive home, I had swapped out the hard drive and was restoring everything to where I had the laptop before I decided to make the change.

The new hard drive has really kicked the performance of this older computer up quite a few notches. This ThinkPad T410 is now flying along like it’s less than a year old, even though it’s probably closer to seven or eight years old.

While Apple does great things for consumers, and I believe they are trying to do great things for the planet, the idea of having to buy a new computer every X number of years or upgrading your phone every year to the latest and greatest gadget is not fitting in with my recent line of thinking.

I’m feeling like I can embrace this nifty little ThinkPad for the next couple of years. I feel like I’m making a contribution to keeping a perfect computer out of a landfill.

Small steps.


Vintage.

I was tempted to buy the Apple IIe pictured above. Earl would have wondered where I was going to put it, but it would have been a nifty thing to have in my office.

I took some time Saturday afternoon to browse and reminisce at the Vintage Computer Festival Midwest outside of the city. Earl opted to wait for me at the local Starbucks. I spent an hour so walking around, talking to other vintage computing geeks, and having a nice discussion with a guy running a full-fledged Digital VAX 11 in the exhibit space. (Think almost the size of a mainframe and usually found in a specially cooled room).

I’ve mentioned before that while we have plenty of technology today, it seems like companies are missing an element on innovation these days. We could be much smarter people if we used technology for worthwhile causes instead of using all of these devices for entertainment. Granted, many of the computers on display at VCFMW were demonstrating games of the era, but at least the games still made you think. When you’re playing a text-based role game, you have to use your imagination to know where you are in the game space. Today’s immersive technology doesn’t really engage imagination.

I had the opportunity to play around with a few of the older machines while I was at the festival and I was delighted to realize that my “muscle memory” of certain editing commands on ancient text editors are still quite intact. I haven’t used DEC’s EDT editor in a couple of decades but I was able to navigate around the screen like an old pro. That was kind of fun.

It’s fun to see such an effort to keep our computing heritage alive. I look forward to attending more of these festivals.

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Upgrade?

Apple has announced their next big event. It is scheduled for September 12 at 10:00 a.m. Pacific. It’s called “Apple Special Event”.  They will undoubtedly announce new iPhones and iPads. This can mean only one thing: my iPhone X and iPad Pro will no longer be the latest and greatest from Apple.

And honestly, I don’t really care.

I’ve come to realize that Apple is now about evolution, not revolution. There will be nothing new and exciting about the iPhone XS (or whatever it is called); it will simply have a faster processor and probably a better screen and camera, but it’ll still do what my iPhone X does and not much more.

I read all of these reports of people being unhappy with the latest and greatest MacBook Pro, especially when it comes to the new designed keyboards. My tricked-out MacBook Pro from mid-2015 does its job just fine, even with the latest version of Mac OS (Mojave). This MacBook Pro was an emergency replacement for my older 2013 model, which was stolen out of my hotel room during a work trip. This 2015 model does fine for what it is, and I love using it, but I don’t feel a need to upgrade. Things are still snappy, I can still edit photos and videos without a problem, and the battery life is decent (though not nearly as good as when I bought it new).  I feel no need to purchase a new MacBook Pro, in fact, I don’t know what I’ll do if the day comes that my current computer can’t be repaired or upgraded to where I need it to be. Apple’s focus has moved to iOS but I’m not ready to shift my focus to exclusive iPad use (though I’ve tried on a number of occasions).  If I had an iPad Pro that ran the Mac experience I would be happier, but iOS just feels too simple and confined for me to enjoy a full computing experience. I wouldn’t say it feels like a toy, to me it just feels like a computer designed for casual use. My needs fit well into the upper half of “power user”.

Pundits have been tripping over one another to get the latest tidbit or juicy detail out there about what Apple is going to do at their Special Event next week. I’ll watch the event, because despite my criticisms, I still believe Apple brings the best computing experience available today to the masses, but the truth of the matter is, it isn’t the perfect computing experience.

It’s still interesting to see what they’ll do, though.

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Twitter.

Photo courtesy of Mashable.

Yesterday, Twitter part-time CEO Jack Dorsey announced the reasoning for not following the lead of other tech and social media companies and removing Alex Jones’ from Twitter. For those not familiar, Alex Jones is most associated with Infowars, a conspiracy/”alternative-facts” website known for spreading disinformation and perpetuating several conspiracy theories, including that the Sandy Hook school shooting was either staged or faked and that all of the grieving parents are paid actors. Parents of killed school children have relocated hundreds of miles away from their home in high security residences to avoid the loonies threatening them for being paid actors of what Jones calls a staged shooting. I’ve avoided Megyn Kelly and her schtick since she featured Jones on her Sunday night talk show on Father’s Day 2017.

Part-time Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey says the platform will not suspend Jones’ account because he hasn’t broken any of Twitter’s content rules. By the way, I say “part-time CEO” because Dorsey’s ego also allows him to be the CEO of Square. When the president of the United States is tweeting nuclear war threats at North Korea on your social media platform, running the platform is truly a part-time job.

I’ve been on Twitter for over a decade. Since the 2016 election I’ve really struggled with the platform. Admittedly, I’ve probably tried to quit Twitter at least a dozen times but like any well-trained tech addict, I’m addicted to the stream of information flowing from Twitter, as plagued with negativity, lies, and dumpster fire chic as it has been for the past year and a half.

I think @Jack’s asinine behavior has finally pushed me over the brink and sobered me up from my addiction to Twitter. Dorsey’s focus on profit for the fledging tech company, and his allowance of perpetuation of outright lies and dangerous conspiracy theories is doing more harm than good for society today. There will always be negativity in the world, that is very much apparent in what has honestly turned out to be thus far a horrible century for the world, but there’s a line of morality and I believe Twitter has crossed to the dark side. We wouldn’t expect someone to investigate if there really was a fire if someone yelled “Fire” in a theatre.

I firmly believe that the growth of tech, and especially the Internet, has outpaced society’s capacity to control, contribute, and consume much of value with all the technology we have at our fingertips today. We are behind what we are capable of, and all of this tech at our fingertips is being weaponized by bad actors in the world. This weaponization is being willfully perpetuated by greedy, power hungry people like part-time Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey. When he and his Facebook counterpart Mark Zuckerberg say they’re trying to connect the world in good faith, don’t buy a word of it. Jack and Mark are greedy, power hungry men, with little regard for society, morality, or even a quality human connection.

It’s time for me to say goodbye to Twitter. It will not be easy for me. I’m an addict and I will have my struggles. I have grown reliant on some of the good information that comes from the platform. But I can’t pollute my well-being with the negativity that is rampant on the platform any longer.

I hope to maintain the quality connections I’ve had with folks that I’ve met on Twitter over the years. Godspeed to them as they try to wade through the muck.

Godspeed to all of us.

Pencil.

I fly with an iPad Pro as my electronic flight bag. ForeFlight is my software of choice. All of my flight planning information, notes, maps, etc. are stored on this iPad and I use an Apple Pencil go jot down my inflight notes.

My Apple Pencil decided to be free and did not make the trip from the airplane to home last night. I put it in a pen holder in my flight bag and closed the side pocket, but that pen holder and side pocket are not solid on the bottom, so it undoubtedly slipped out in transition. At least I know it’s not in the airplane somewhere.

The Apple Pencil is an expensive accessory to lose and I will be extra diligent with this replacement purchase. As we become more and more reliant on technology in our lives, it’s important to keep track of our doodads.